Posts Tagged ‘optikal bloc

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

19
Oct
17

One The Bear

 

One the Bear

La Boite Theatre Company

Campbelltown Arts Centre and Black Honey Company

Roundhouse Theatre

October 10 -21 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

One the Bear is a magical journey about identity and discovering your true self. It is fun, unexpected, loud and proud, and full of heart. Growing up, pursuing your dreams and learning who your real friends are is hard, and some of us get lost along the way. This show presented by La Boite Theatre Company, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Black Honey Company validates the importance of remembering your history and where you came from, and celebrates individuality.

 

The story follows the friendship of two grizzly bears named One (Candy Bowers) and Ursula (Nancy Denis), who live in a grungy alleyway next to a dumpster, spending most of their time keeping out of sight from the “Hunters.” In this dystopian world, capturing bears is paramount for humans to survive. They are skinned, even their organs are used in medicines. One vividly remembers the day when her mother was killed in front of her. It fills her belly with rage, but this little cub has hope, and dreams of a better future where bears are free to return to the forests. One has a passion for hip hop music and she and Ursula rap about their trials and tribulations.

 

 

When One is discovered by a hot shot producer, she walks a fine line between using her fame as a platform to give voice to the discrimination and torture of bears, and losing herself completely in the bright lights and screaming fans. She alters her appearance, gives into vanity and pride, and worse she abandons her friend Ursula. One finds herself being consumed by a world that takes advantage of the weak to make money. She finally hits rock bottom, roaring out against it all, and returning to the dumpster. Ursula is there waiting and ready to help One find her purpose again.

 

 

Written wholly in rhyme by Candy Bowers and accompanied by an incredibly fresh and funky sound design by Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers, this is a must-see show for young people. It delivers important messages regarding our time and how we view fame. People are urged to present the best version of themselves, and yet the media, the internet, Facebook and Instagram are filling our heads with idealistic and often unachievable ideas of happiness and success. One the Bear is a beautiful reminder to have the courage to define yourself and carve your own path.

 

 

Walking into the show, I was unsure what to expect, though I was pleasantly surprised at how invested I became in the story. There were moments the sound was loud and overpowered the performers, making it difficult to hear what they were saying. All the production elements ensnared the senses, particularly the stunning video projection by optikal bloc and Sarah Seahorse’s bright and bold costume designs.

 

 

Candy Bowers and Nancy Denis were next-level, never dropping their energy for a second. Their physicality was outstanding, you couldn’t look away for fear of missing something. Even though it was a tale of two bears, the message about friendship, identity and empowering women, were all too clear.

 

One the Bear is for the cubs, the next generation of strong, opinionated and passionate young feminists who will change the world. The audience fell in love with One and Ursula, and it was thrilling to see so many young people enjoying themselves. The emotional arc of this work is superb, and the reason you’ll leave the theatre filled with hope and a big smile on your face.   

   

03
Mar
14

The Mountaintop

 

The Mountaintop

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

February 22 – March 16 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

The baton passes on.

 

A rainy April night in Memphis, 1968 – and Dr Martin Luther King Jr doesn’t know it, but it will be his last night on earth. Wearied but resolute after his years-long march at the head of the Civil Rights Movement, the preacher checks into room 306 at the modest Lorraine Motel.

 

Before the sun sets again, he will be shot and killed. 

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

I saw MTC’s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop last year and was struck by the magic created by the actors in that production, Bert LaBonte and Zahra Newman, who had been paired after appearing on stage together a few times already. There I saw the show at the end of the season and here I saw opening night of QTC’s production, directed by the company’s Associate Director, Todd MacDonald, starring a new pair, Pacharo Mzembe and Candy Bowers. By the end of the season these two are going to be magnificent; in fact from about 15 minutes in they are pretty damn good! However, it took that long for Mzembe to look really comfortable as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the man; the sinner. When Camae, the flirtatious maid (another self-proclaimed sinner), stepped into King’s shoes, the shift in energy and focus from Bowers was also noticeable, and once both performers settled and relaxed, resuming the play between them that comes straight outta’ the rehearsal room, the show really started and the opening night audience lapped it up.

 

For me, the writing is less convincing than the end result, in this case, of some lovely gentle direction and two intuitive, eventually very natural performances, which make us catch our breath more than once, and sit up straighter and taller at the challenge to pass the baton on. The final minutes are really something. Hall’s play about Martin Luther King Jr’s (imagined) last night on earth impressed the Brits and divided American critics, some of whom, like Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar haters, probably preferred to remember the martyr, not the man.

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

But it’s with the man we sympathise, though not completely, since he’s a chain-smoking womaniser with stinky feet! It’s the real (imagined) view of a weary man at his most vulnerable, confronted by a sassy motel maid that makes the piece interesting, as well as the casual and comedic repartee between a philanderer and a woman who is not all she seems. Camae cleverly represents a fierce, Oprahfied black woman, and at the same time, the sadder image of the oppressed; it’s a wishful feminism. I can’t give away how Camae has reached her enlightened state, but as someone who believes that there have always been strong women around, whether they’ve been noted or not, I’m all for this aspect of Hall’s fiction. Indeed, it’s what makes the play possible.

 

No spoilers here, but some of Camae’s tricks don’t quite work, and the fault may be in the writing more than in the production elements (when this play grows up it will be a movie). It’s easy enough to skip past these effects and appreciate the magic for what it is – a reminder that, as much as we like to think it so, we don’t know all there is to know.

 

Candy Bowers. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The highlight of this production is the delivery upstage, of Camae’s “The baton passes on” speech/rap/song/performance art piece by Bowers, supported by flickering images – a brilliant historical montage by optikal bloc – thrown across the motel windows and walls, not unlike Melbourne’s version of the play but with greater colour and immediate impact, paired as it is with Kieran Swann’s unassuming set, which moves and opens wide just as our hearts do. Layered within and around composition by Busty Beatz, Ben Hughes’ lighting and Tony Brumpton’s sound add to the extraordinary effect of a brilliantly conceived full-blown biblical ghetto sequence.

 

Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The most startling difference here is that Bowers makes the list of names and historical events mean something even more than they did already. She commands the space, driving the energy and bringing the message home to multiple generations, to those who remember events, and those who should never have to see history repeat itself. Mzembe’s final address is poignant and despite the playwright’s determination to drive the point home once again before we go home, he is able to keep it real rather than maddening, genuinely challenging us to keep changing the world.

 

 

The Mountaintop gives its performers the chance to breathe, flex their muscles and fly. This is truly inspirational theatre; a call to action, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick up the baton and pass it on.

 

 

25
Aug
12

1984

shake & stir 1984

1984

shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC Cremorne 

August 16 – September 1 2012

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU

 

And by Big Brother, of course I mean George Orwell’s and not Network Ten’s. Written in 1948, Orwell’s prophetic horror story of a state’s absolute power over the individual, in the current political climate, feels more relevant than ever.

I missed shake & stir’s production of the multi-Matilda Award winning Animal Farm last year. There have been many times since then that I’ve thought to myself, “Self, you really should have seen Animal Farm last year.” Now, after experiencing their faithful adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 (like Animal Farm, it’s the first theatrical adaptation of the novel in this country), I can honestly say I intend never to miss another main stage show from shake and stir.

This is a relatively young company, as far as main stage experience goes. Education Queensland accredited, they are more often seen in our schools. (Well, in those schools smart enough to book them well in advance). Their current touring show, Statespeare (“studying Shakespeare suckeths”), has been nominated for a coveted Helpmann Award. Not only that, but through their connections with students and teachers along the way, I ‘reckon shake & stir theatre co. receives more feedback via social media than just about any other Brisbane-based theatre company. The larger companies can learn from these young guns, a thing or two about the power of Instagram! I expect to see them on Pinterest next! With their increasing presence across the state and online, and with this powerful production, impressively staged in QPAC’s most intimate space, the Cremorne Theatre, shake & stir have become the company to watch.

Under Michael Futcher’s intelligent and daring direction, this show is flawless. Futcher has missed none of the powerful motifs from the original, horrifying novel, beautifully translating to the stage, the fear of rising power that, at the time, Orwell sought to warn readers about (he feared the lengths that Spanish and Russian communist governments were prepared to go to, in order to gain control of their citizens would catch on in the West). We feel the threat of oppression and absolute control by a totalitarian government that monitors its citizens 24/7. In Oceania, even thoughts can be crimes.

As we enter the theatre under a couple of rather intimidating searchlights and sit down before an immense wall of television screens sporting the eyes of Big Brother, we sense that all is not well. Understatement of the year? Perhaps. There is a distinct air of foreboding. The impressive digital display is built into a brilliant bomb-stricken set, which is full of surprises, revealing secret spaces and allowing easy access to props as well as providing gasp-worthy changes of scene as the plot rushes along and suddenly takes a turn into a well-balanced blissful state. Josh McIntosh has designed the ideal, austere interior, incorporating optikal bloc’s technology. I loved optikal bloc’s input into Anna McGahan’s He’s Seeing Other People Now and this effort too is impressive. The pre-recorded footage would mean little however, without the physicality and the prowess of the actors on stage. Particularly effective are the opening couple of minutes, the disturbing “two minutes of hate”, which had – believe it or not – a stronger impact on stage in 2012 than on screen in the 1984 released film.

As the long-suffering Winston Smith, Bryan Probets is outstanding, delivering his best work when he is silent on stage and his gaunt, pre-filmed face utters his every thought on screen. (It’s fascinating to see an audience struggle, not knowing which face to watch!). It’s a truly cinematic effect and testament to shake & stir’s commitment to establishing authentic connections with their audiences and challenging the forms and styles of traditional theatre making. As Smith takes step after tentative step towards certain doom (taking his lover, Julia, with him), “We watch on in enraptured horror, but…like Winston, manage to hold on to hope.” The hope is fleeting. The interrogation sequences within Room 101 are completely terrifying, the stuff of nightmares, which is of course the point and the conclusion, unhappily, is inevitable. I defy you to keep from squirming and shifting uncomfortably throughout. I guess the overriding hope is that it will never come to this outside of a book or a proscenium arch.

Boasting an enviable collective skill set, this ensemble is superb. Hugh Parker, Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij join Probets in what must be 2012’s most ambitious bit of storytelling (and arguably, the best told). Josh McIntosh (Designer), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer), Guy Webster (Composer/Sound Designer), optikal bloc (Media Producers) and Ben Shaw (Stage Manager) complete the formidable creative team that will, I suspect, take home another couple of Matildas this year for their fearless and flawless production of 1984. Bravo!

1984